NEW ORLEANS — President Obama spoke on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina from the Lower Ninth Ward, an area that a decade earlier was devastated by the storm.
"Not long ago, our gathering in the Lower 9 would have seemed unlikely," Obama told the crowd gathered at the Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center, in a room the size of about two basketball courts.
But the steady rebirth of the city and the state has stood as a "symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, its people, the entire gulf coast and the entire United States of America."
Obama walked door-to-door through the Tremé neighborhood shortly before the speech, talking to residents who snapped pictures with their phones and welcomed the president with a banner.
There the President spoke of the revitalization of the area, and the work that he said still needs to be done.
"Part of our goal has always been to make sure not just that we recovered from the storm, but also that we started dealing with some of the structural inequalities that existed long before the storm happened," Obama said. "This is an area where young people still, too often, are taking the wrong path before they graduate from high school. This is a community that still needs resources and still needs help."
He walked the historically black neighborhood alongside New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
"We stayed in pain longer than we had to because we decided we weren't going to build this city back the way it was," Landrieu told the crowd minutes before Obama walked on stage.
Landrieu has argued a slow pace is needed in order the correct historic mistakes and mitigate any negative aspects of subsequent gentrification in the area, a point of contention as the historic city continues to rebuild 10 years later.
Though commending the strides the city has made in the last 10 years, Obama also cited the errors of the past, and the unraveling of Katrina from a "natural disaster to a man-made disaster."
"This was something was that was not supposed to happen here," he said. "Maybe somewhere else, but not in America."
As he spoke, a woman in the crowd yelled out, "Our children need medical help. They need medical help."
Obama responded, saying "I agree. I'll get to that."
The President cited changes that have been adopted to rebuild after Katrina and avoid the mistakes from the past, including new housing and revamping of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"That gives us hope, but it doesn't allow for complacency," he said.
But there were issues to tackle still, he said, including 40% of children living in poverty, black households that have a household income half the size of white households, and African American unemployment.
"That's not a finished job," he said.
And despite the strides made in the region, the President said he cited past mistakes, "not to wallow in grief, we do it to fortify our commitment and bolster our hope, to understand what it is that we learned and how far we have come."
"I'm here to hold up a mirror, because of you, the people of New Orleans, the city is moving in the right direction," Obama said. "You inspire me."
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at email@example.com.
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